The Senate was again one vote short today of being able to send the DISCLOSE Act to the floor for consideration and action.

The successful effort by Republican Senators to block Senate action on the DISCLOSE Act is a great loss for the American people, who have a basic right to know who is providing the money used to pay for campaign ads to influence their votes.  

Unfortunately, Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins again chose to vote for the Republican filibuster and against the interests of the American people. Their votes are out of character with their longtime past support for campaign finance reform.

Senate sponsors of the DISCLOSE Act made clear to Senators Snowe and Collins that they were prepared to change the bill to strip it down to the disclosure provisions, to make 2011 the effective date  for the disclosure reforms and to discuss any other changes the Senators wanted to make.

Yet, Senators Snowe and Collins were not even willing to discuss with the sponsors of the legislation changes in the bill to address any problems they may have.

This underlines the fact that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has insisted that all Republican Senators vote to block Senate consideration of the DISCLOSE Act.

It is important to understand what Senator McConnell is up to in blocking the disclosure legislation and what the consequences will be in the future if he continues to be successful down the road.

Despite Senator McConnell’s pronouncements that the legislation’s disclosure requirements violates free speech, the Supreme Court has made clear in an 8 to 1 vote that disclosure of corporate campaign spending is constitutional. McConnell’s continuing argument that this bill is an attempt to rig the 2010 elections is both incorrect and now meaningless since the sponsors of the legislation have made clear they will make it effective starting in 2011. Senator McConnell’s attacks on the non-disclosure provisions in the bill are also meaningless since the sponsors have made clear they are prepared to strip the bill down to the disclosure provisions.

Rather, the goal of Senator McConnell is to ensure that shadow Republican party groups, like the 501(c)(4) groups Crossroads GPS and American Action Network, and 501(c)(6) trade associations, like the Chamber of Commerce, can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence congressional races while hiding from the public the donors who are funding these expenditures.

The McConnell approach reflects an attitude that says:  the American people’s right to know campaign finance information be damned.

The McConnell approach takes us back to the pre-Watergate era of American politics when secret influence-buying contributions sloshed around in our elections, and citizens were kept completely in the dark about the special-interest donors providing the money to influence their votes.

Since the early 1970s there has been a consensus in this country, reflected in federal campaign finance laws, that citizens have a right to know who is giving and spending money to influence elections.

However, if Senator McConnell is successful in blocking the disclosure provisions of the DISCLOSE Act, the forty-year old consensus for disclosing campaign contributions and expenditures is out-the-window. The 2012 presidential and congressional races are likely to see $500 million or more in secret contributions being spent to influence federal elections and the decisions of federal officeholders.

This is what is really at stake for Senator McConnell in his effort to kill the DISCLOSE Act. It is also what is at stake for the American people.

Democracy 21 strongly urges Senate Majority Leader Reid to return to considering the DISCLOSE Act if and when Congress returns for a post-election session.

Democracy 21 strongly urges Senators Snowe and Collins to reconsider their positions and to vote for the DISCLOSE Act, and for the interests of their Maine constituents and citizens throughout the country, if and when the Senate returns for a  post-election session.